It was around the middle of August when Raj Shah, a super senior majoring in exercise science, came up with an idea while casually chatting with some friends on Facebook Messenger. Inspired by the well-known Humans of New York blog, Shah wanted to create something similar for Montclair State’s campus. His Facebook pitch followed a spitball of ideas from him and his friends and together, they settled on one: a Red Hawks of Montclair State (RHOMS) Instagram page that would feature the students, faculty and staff that make up the campus community.
“[Being a Red Hawk] is not limited to a certain group, a certain dynamic [or] a certain way of living,” said super senior and director of the project, Jean Camacho, as he explained why the team decided not to limit the name ‘Red Hawk’ to just students. “A Red Hawk is inclusive of all of us.”
Although Shah initiated the idea, he and the RHOMS team agree that organizing the project was, and continues to be, a team effort. While Shah, 22, is in charge of production and editing, his younger brother, Deep Shah, 19, who looks like he can be Raj’s fraternal twin, is the operations specialist and deals with emails and social media. Mubashir Hassan, a super senior economics major, is the leading photographer. And Rey Aguilar, who just joined the team two weeks ago, is a super senior biology major and helps with photography as the team’s photo editor.
Describing their circle as a “pot luck” of friends, the team told how they all bonded by making individual connections with each other. While Raj and Deep bond over the struggles they face in their Principles of Biology class, Jean and Mubashir’s friendship grew stronger over the interest the two share in the Pokémon game. Regardless of how each member knows one another, it’s clear that these young men have a special brotherhood where they support each other.
When they’re not working on a story for the RHOMS page, they can be found joking around in “The Rat” ― otherwise known to the team as Montclair State’s Rathskeller. If they are laughing, it’s probably because they’re teasing Jean for the blank stare that he makes in all of his photos. Or, they’re getting a kick out of pointing out how Jean is fond of wearing blazers every day ― even during the torching summer heat.
So far, the Red Hawks of Montclair State’s Instagram page ― described in the biography as “a glimpse of the life of the Red Hawks” ― has featured a variety of people, such as several Montclair State students, the director of the Educational Opportunity Fund, Dr. Daniel Jean, Rocky the Red Hawk and 2 Mato Pizzeria Manager, James J. Fitzgerald ― just to name a few.
When asked how they go about finding Red Hawks to feature on the page, Deep explained how he usually starts by following more people that go to Montclair State on Instagram. “Our Instagram page has a business aspect to it,” said Deep. “You can contact us via email, so people usually email us saying that they want to be featured.”
Each Instagram post includes a photo and a short blurb about the person being featured. Once a person reaches out to be on the page, they must complete the blurb form and then someone from the RHOMS team will set up an appointment to take a picture of them. A consent form must also be signed, where the person being featured agrees to allow their photo be used for Montclair State purposes.
Although Jean referred to the photography aspect as a “special process,” Mubashir insisted that it’s not that special. “It’s more like making it feel like an actual area so [the picture] is not secluded to one area,” said Mubashir, who described himself as having a good eye when it comes to taking photos. “We’ve been around campus and many different places and different buildings. We try to show a community.”
Rey recalled his experience when he did a photoshoot for sophomore, Aya Nur. “One of the first pictures I took was of a student in the lab with a microscope. [She wanted her picture taken there] because she felt connected in that environment,” said Rey. “We usually ask the person where they would like to get their picture taken at because it’s a way for us to see where they feel more connected on campus. Science majors usually go to Richardson or Science Hall.”
Director of Student Communications, Cindy Meneghin said that the RHOMS team approched the department in August and she was thrilled when they pitched their idea. “Red Hawks capturing Red Hawks,” she said. “It’s a fantastic community connection. Each Red Hawk is special, and RHOMS captures that so well.”
Although the members of RHOMS say that they try to go above and beyond to feature people who reach out to them, they also make an effort to feature people who they personally know are interesting and worthy of being known by the campus community. Last Friday’s post about resident assistant coordinator, Alfredo Ramirez, who the team reached out to for a feature, has become their most popular post yet.
“He’s very involved on campus,” said Jean. “We knew that he spoke to what the Red Hawk is all about.”
With all of their posts, the RHOMS team try to promote a positive journey through posting stories about people who, in one way or another, are relatable.
“Being a Red Hawk is an experience. It’s a holistic time that you spend somewhere besides your home. It’s somewhere where you can either learn, instruct or help others feel better and grow better,” said Jean. “In doing things in that nature you grow as a person and that’s where families come from. We wanted to bring that sense of family back on campus.”
Deep referred to the page as an “ice breaker” and explained that the team hopes that by featuring people, the campus community will feel like they met someone new at Montclair State.
As of today, the Red Hawks of Montclair State Instagram page has a total of 1,107 followers ― an increase of over 400 hundred from when the team sat down with me on Tuesday for an interview.